An Orphan No More

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“As the world looks upon us, as we struggle along, they say we have nothing but they are so wrong, in my heart I am rejoicing how I wish they could see, thank you Lord for your blessings on me.”

Red and white stripes.  That is what I had on as I stood on the property of Faith Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida.  It was a hot summer day, and my heart was broken, and I began to feel invisible, I began to feel like nobody wanted me.

I got settled in the “big girls room” with 5 other girls.  I put my trophies and other things that remind me of “home”–wherever that was.  One thing I knew, this wasn’t it.  I began counting down the days until I would be 18, it was just over 1,000 days.

Something inside of me broke that day.  My mantra, without even knowing it, was “everybody leaves”.  I had no desire to get close to anyone at this place; and I was determined to stay invisible, then I would not stand the chance of answering questions.  Painful questions.

It had only been 18 months since the state removed me from custodial care of my mother. My dad, who I barely knew, died when I was 7 years old. I had two Uncles and a bunch of cousins but almost all of them lived in Canada and the state would not let them take me. Both of my state-side Uncle’s were fighting issues of their own—my Uncle Lloyd—my hero, lost his battle with cancer just a few years after all of this. But neither of them could take me.  I felt so unwanted; I was a kid I couldn’t possibly understand some of the reasons I could not be placed with blood family.

I will always be grateful to Ray and Gayle Dunning who stood up for me. They took me to the hospital so that evidence could be collected, they went to court for me, they refused to let the state put me into the foster care system. They bought me a twin bed, the first bed, by the way, I ever remember having to myself. They let me finish my freshman year of high school. It was never meant to be a permanent decision for a variety of reasons. I can look back on it now and see the wisdom of moving me 225 miles away from Jacksonville. Ray was the pastor of a thriving church, these people had children of their own, and I am pretty sure I arrived at their house like I had been raised by a pack of wolves. So, the decision was made to place me in Faith Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida.

I had not been at the Children’s home very long.  I was hiding on this red stool in this industrial sized kitchen just days after arriving at the home. I wanted to be invisible. It felt like nobody on this planet wanted me, and well that feeling sucks. It’s hard to even type that because that is how real it feels (even now), like nobody on the planet wanted me. Whether it was real or imagined, it didn’t matter, it is the way it felt to a 15 year old kid who had been through way more than I will ever share.

I guess I figured hiding between the giant refrigerator and a pantry would make me literally invisible. I was minding my business when this person, this little, tiny, person popped her head in my invisible stratosphere.  Her voice was sweet, and kind.  Her words were dripped with the most southern accent you have ever heard.  Her white hair was beautiful, and probably well earned.  Her eyes were a window into her soul; a beautiful soul, one that just make you know that she was trustworthy.   I am convinced they were and still are the eyes of Jesus. “Well hello!”… If I could have pushed myself through that wall and onto the other side I would have. I was TRAPPED. One thing I have always been is polite, so I responded with “Hi”. “Well, how are you? And has anybody told you today?” WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
I mustered “ma’am?”— I had absolutely NO idea what she was talking about. She said “has anybody told you today that they love you?”

I distinctly remember staring at her like she was an alien.
Certainly, the Dunning’s had told me this during my 18 months with them, but as a rule love was not something that was a positive word and almost always meant I had to give something up to get, and keep it. Something, by the way, that I struggle with to this day—I am not sure I won’t always have to have my friends watching out for me on this.

Lindy & Jackie McGowan are founders of 3 children’s homes in the state of Florida. Their ministry spans from Melbourne to Tampa to Tallahassee, 40 years and 4,000 kids. Invading my invisible wall and stick of dynamite was Mom McGowan.  So, indeed, that white hair was well earned!

I came along late in their ministry, they had very little interaction with the kids on a day-to- day basis, we had house parents for that.  However, Mom decided that day that she was going to make the invisible visible, she was convinced to pull me out of my shell; and to teach me to trust; as that had not gone well for me in my 15 years of life.

I spent the next 5 years being loved so well by this woman. There are not words for what she means to me. She is still, to this day, the only person that knows some of the most horrific details of my life before the Dunning’s stepped in and got me out of hell. I still have the card she and Dad gave me when I graduated from high school, and college. Both of them “daughter” cards– cards meant for parents to give their daughter. I could add this to count-less “pink-notes” I would get from Mom when we were on tour- that is when we got to see them. I would spend countless hours on a stool on that Greyhound bus talking to Mom about everything you could imagine. Most of the time she initiated these conversations. I was not then am nor am I able now to hide anything. You can see it in my eyes and you can hear it in my voice.

So many years have passed since 1987, so much has happened and they were there for a lot of it. They were even there for my wedding—a day everybody wishes we could have a do-over. I don’t get to see them very often but I did get to see them very much, but I still get text messages asking “has anybody told you today?”

I wish I could say that those 5 years I got there was enough for me not to walk into a marriage that would ultimately almost take my life—but it certainly was a phenomenal 5 years for me. At 42 years old, when I hear them say they are proud of me, it makes me feel like I am that 15 year old invisible kid, becoming visible again.

 

“He cries in the corner in the corner where nobody sees he’s the kid with the story no one would believe, he prays every night dear God wont you please send someone here who will love me. Who will love me for me, not for what I have done or what I will become who love me for me cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means.” JJ Heller

Chapter 23: An Orphan No More

Mom, Dad & Me–May, 2014

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8 thoughts on “An Orphan No More

  1. I’m so glad that you finally realized that your orphan days are long-since-over! I have known this for several years but knew that you weren’t ready to hear it; it was something that God needed to reveal to you Himself. Xxoo

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